the living room presents: 50 movies you should probably watch, 1-10

So, last week I challenged Teacher Dave to come up with a list of his favorite 50 movies, the ones he would highly recommend to people because he likes them so much. And he challenged me to do the same. We’ll both be posting ten per day.

Now, some caveats: Some of these films contain nudity, language, sex, drugs, violence, and rock and roll. If your conscience doesn’t allow for that kind of thing, well, by all means don’t watch them. That is all up to you and the Spirit. I’ll post warnings if necessary. Now for the show:

1. Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe used to write for Rolling Stone when he was in high school, did you know that? This is a fictionalized version of his story, told through the eyes of a young man named William Miller. Selfishness turns to redemption and love and sacrifice. But I would recommend the movie just on the basis of this scene alone:

2. American Beauty
I freaked out my college roommate when I watched this movie once, because she walked in right as the line “Don’t **** my dad!” was being uttered. This is a bizarre picture of the ugliness underneath the American Dream–Kevin Spacey’s character quits his job and pursues sex and pleasure in the name of “genuine life”, little realizing that the real beauty is right in front of him until it’s too late, while the people around him break down further and further. But the end brings resolution, albeit a violent one, but that violence is necessary for atonement. Obviously there’s some sex and drugs here, but guys, really, it is a gorgeous film.

3. Amistad
Based on a true event in American history, Amistad tells the story of a group of slaves that rebel against their captors and then hit the United States in the early 1800s. They’re captured: After all, they’re slaves, aren’t they? They’re tried: Whose property is this, and are they even property at all? Their defense lawyer, played by Matthew McConaughey, gradually changes his view of these people from goods to be bought and sold to real human beings with lives and rights. Anthony Hopkins also turns in a great performance as our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. This isn’t an easy movie to watch, as it’s fairly realistic in its portrayal of how slaves were treated aboard ship, but it’s one of those films that you should watch.

4. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset
These are movies about two people talking. Boring, right? No. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy go through Vienna (in the first movie) and Paris (in the latter) and hash out ideas on life and love and relationships. The first film, made in 1995, follows two twentysomethings trying to find themselves in the world; the latter, made 10 years later, follows the same two characters after life has worn them through some. They originally meet on a train, and he convinces her to come wander around the city with him before he catches a flight back to America in the morning, and then the latter film finds them meeting by accident again in Paris. It’s an utterly fascinating study in how time changes you, and how love changes with circumstances and age. I wonder if they’ll make another one in another ten years…

5. Benny and Joon
Johnny Depp as a semi-literate Buster Keaton wannabe? Mary Stuart Masterson as a schizophrenic he falls in love with? Shouldn’t work, right? But it totally does. Utterly charming. Love conquers all. Even if that doesn’t always work in reality, it does in the movies, and that’s why we watch them. Besides, this is hilarious:

6. Braveheart
Of course. The quintessential guy movie. I’m a girl, though, and I even love this. A man who knows his priorities, who fights for both love of country and love of a woman, and gives his life for the greater good at the end? That is the kind of man I think most women want. I do, anyway. Besides, it’s about Scotland, and we all know how I feel about Scotland (best country in the world besides America).

7. Casablanca
It’s a movie about war without actually being about war–no, this is how war affects civilians waiting in the wings while the soldiers fight, how a person survives while the world is falling apart. Again, love and sacrifice and redemption, and who doesn’t love Bogart and Bergman?

8. Cinderella Man
This is probably going to surprise some of you, but I love watching boxing. I also love watching Russell Crowe (he’s going to show up a lot in this list, I might add). So, this is basically a given for me. In this particular film he plays real-life boxer Jim Brannock, who has to quit the game, but goes back to pay the bills for his family during the Depression. It’s not about winning for him, although that’s an added bonus, but rather about taking care of his wife and kids. Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti put in great performances as Brannock’s wife and manager, and Ron Howard shows off both his directing and editing chops here.

9. Elizabethtown
This was panned a lot by the critics, and I guess I can see it, but no, I’m in love with this movie. Orlando Bloom starts off as a suicidal ex-shoe designer (the “ex” part being his impetus for despair), but when his dad dies, he goes back to his father’s hometown (the title of the film) and finds love and a reason to live again. And he works much better as an American, by the way. Quirky, hilarious, great dialogue, all of it. Also, being a Cameron Crowe film, the music is absolutely stellar.

10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Weird narrative structure? Yes, please. Jim Carrey in a serious role? Yes, please. A meditation on memory and love and pain? Yes, please. Check.


6 thoughts on “the living room presents: 50 movies you should probably watch, 1-10

  1. Good choices, all.

    I’d be willing to bet your interpretation of the ending of “American Beauty” is probably different from the director’s, however.

  2. One more: I just rewatched the “Drew and Chuck” scene under #9, and had a hard time stifling my laughter here in my office. Awesome clip. Thanks for sharing that.

    E-town, the “Before” movies, and Casablanca would definitely be in the Awesome Seventy-Five.

  3. hannahbanana77

    I agree 100% with the choices here that I’ve seen. I should watch the rest, then. Amusingly enough, I too freaked out my college roommate when she walked in on me watching “American Beauty.” But it was because I was in the middle of watching it for the first time, and my whole body was tense, and I was a little snippy. The main thing I tell people about that movie is that you have to keep watching, keep going…as a whole, it’s worth it. Without the big picture, it’d be a bunch of random grotesque sexed-up images. That movie is a wonder to me.

    Dave, what interpretation do you think Sam Mendes would give the ending? I’ve seen the film with commentary (as I now own it, which is a fact I don’t tell many of my fellow Christians), but I’ve somehow forgotten what he said. I tend towards a less-meaningful version of Amanda’s interpretation; Lester has been set free from the cages in his life, and he now sees the “beauty,” and somehow this resolves some things…but all is not atoned for. It’s a bit ambiguous to me. What do you think?

  4. Yeah, I’d agree that not all is atoned for with American Beauty. Some things, but not everything. His eyes are opened, but it’s too late for him to actually go back and set some things right that could’ve been set right.

  5. I’ve seen 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, and 10. I’ve wanted to see Almost Famous since it came out (I think I was a high school senior at the time), but I’ve never gotten to unfortunately. I bought the Untitled Director’s Cut version on Ebay two different times years ago, and was scammed both times.
    Loved Amistad, though of course Spielberg softens the ending considerably (in real life, Cinque went back to Africa and became a slave-trader himself).
    Braveheart I love despite it being far more fictional than factual.
    Cinderella Man was good (his name was Jim Braddock, by the way), though I didn’t particularly love it, and it has more than a few of Ron Howard’s typical emotionally exploitative moments.
    Elizabethtown I have bittersweet memories of, as the first time I saw it was on the most memorable date I’ve ever been on, though the movie itself I only thought was okay. Favorite scenes: Drew and Claire meeting on the road after talking on the phone all night; Drew putting on the Rusty’s Learning to Listen video and all the rowdy kids suddenly getting quiet.
    Eternal Sunshine is my favorite of those ten, and probably among my 2 or 3 favorite movies of this decade. I notice something new every time I see it, which so far numbers 5 times.

  6. hannahbanana77

    It’s worth noting that the Untitled version of Almost Famous is definitely worth the extra $$! I could just listen to Cameron Crowe talk for hours (and have, I guess, through his movies and his commentaries).

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